Tuesday, July 5, 2022 Jul 5, 2022
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Unparalleled parking by Jack Boles
By Jane Wolfe |

THE WHITE-HAIRED gentleman greeting guests at a party on Lakeside Drive could easily have been mistaken for the host. Those arriving at the front door called him by name, and several Dallas socialites stopped to chat with him before going inside.

Although Jack Boles retired a few years ago from the million-dollar valet parking business he started out of his hip pocket, many people still believe that Boles is standing there-at the entrances of the most prestigious and important addresses in Dallas -waiting to park their cars. But today, the gentleman is most likely to be Lonnie Webb, who’s not exactly a newcomer on the block, either.

Boles and Webb are often confused for one another. They resemble each other somewhat, but, more importantly, Webb has been with the Jack Boles Parking Service almost as long as Boles, who founded the company in 1946.

Some people think Boles was born parking cars on Lakeside Drive, but he was actually born in Mesquite in 1916-and he didn’t park his first car until 1936. That year, contractor Philip Montgomery, who built the Hall of State at Fair Park for the Texas Centennial, asked young Jack to help him out by parking cars for the opening of the new hall. The opening lasted for six months, but the Jack Boles Parking Service wasn’t founded for another 10 years.

In 1946, when Boles was parking cars at the old Biltmore Garage (where Thanksgiving Square is today), Dr. Ed Carey, a prominent physician and a member of Brook Hollow Golf Club in North Dallas, asked him if he’d like a job parking cars at the club. Boles accepted immediately.

By 1948, Boles had 10 men on his payroll. All of them, including himself, worked part time. “We drove trucks or worked as firemen and policemen during the day and then moonlighted in the parking business,” Boles remembers.

“For years, we were able to handle whatever parties or functions came up. I always hoped it would stay that way. You knew all the other fellows you worked with, and there was a camaraderie.

“But since 1965, the demand has tripled. When the children or grandchildren of my original customers ask us to work a party for them, there’s no way you can say no.”

Consequently, the company now employs 40 full-time and 200 part-time parkers, and there’s a list of 40 more waiting for a job with Boles.

The parking service handles about 4,000 events a year, ranging from private dinner parties for as few as six to enormous functions with casts of thousands.

It took 75 parkers to handle the opening of last year’s Neiman-Marcus Fortnight, which was attended by 1,500 people. Boles’ boys have parked more cars than that in an evening, but because of Neiman-Marcus’ downtown location, they were forced to park some cars 10 and 20 blocks from the store.

At the members’ preview of the new Dallas Museum of Art in January, the parkers serviced more than 3,500 cars.

Webb and Boles are not the only parkers with familiar faces. There’s James Hatcher, Merle and Ray Coston, Jim Barnes, Don McFatridge, Eugene Vessels and James Ballard-and those are only the ones who have been with Boles for 20 years or longer.

David Hamilton, who now owns and operates the parking service, joined the business in 1975, a few years after he married Jack Boles’ stepdaughter, Pam Shaw. During one of his first nights on the job, something happened to make him realize that the company had to choose its employees very carefully. As he jumped into a blue Rolls-Royce Corniche convertible owned by a prominent Dallas attorney, he noticed a pair of diamond earrings on the dashboard. “I said aloud to myself, ’His wife has left a pair of $75,000 earrings right out here in the open for someone to steal.’ Then I agonized over what could happen if our employees weren’t trustworthy.”

A few days later, Hamilton made a trip to the Dallas Theological Seminary to recruit parkers. The response was tremendous; dozens of students immediately applied for parking jobs. The word spread quickly to the Baylor College of Dentistry, and soon more than 100 students wanted jobs with the Jack Boles Parking Service.

“The dental students can’t wear beards or long hair in school, and that makes them good for us because we want our boys to have a nice, clean-cut appearance,” says Boles. “But there’s much more to the parking service than just the clean-shaven, familiar faces of its employees.

“The thing that sets us off is our philosophy. We do just about whatever people ask, and we charge steeply for it. Therefore, we don’t attempt to solicit for tips.”

Indeed, Boles’ rates are steep. Depending on whether it’s a private party at a residence or a gala in a large hotel, customers are charged a base fee of between $8 and $18 per parker per hour.

“A person who has a party at his home for 50 people needs at least two parkers. If the party lasts four hours, at $12 an hour per parker, it’s going to cost the host $96 for the evening-and that’s not including tip. For a grand opening at a large commercial site, we’ll charge as much as $18 an hour per parker,” Boles says.

Although 80 percent of the Boles company business is in the Park Cities and in North Dallas, the business occasionally finds its way outside of Dallas. “We did the Garland Chamber of Commerce meeting at a Shriner’s Lodge on Rowlett Road. We do business openings and bank openings, as well as private parties.”

The parkers often know in advance what kinds of tips to expect. “People who live in the Bent Tree and Willow Bend areas tip twice as much as people in Highland Park. But,” adds Boles, “the hottest tipper in town right now is Danny Faulkner. He’s $100 in and $100 out. And if he has both Rolls-Royces, he’ll hand the parker $200 when he arrives and $200 when he leaves. And that’s just for parking his cars. You might wonder whether the parkers fight over who gets to park Faulkner’s cars. We don’t have that problem. The tips are divided equally at the end of the night, and they are divided honorably.”

Naturally, the bigger the tip, the closer to the door a customer can expect to find his car. “Most people tip a dollar or two, but it depends on the function. If it’s a gala in a hotel attended by 1,000 people, we’ll have lots of people tipping $5 and $10 because they don’t want to have to wait for their cars when they come out.”

But, says Boles, tips aren’t always what they appear to be. “A man might wave a $10 tip in the air so his guests can see it and so he can get his car before others waiting in line. You’ll run to get his car, and he’ll hand you $1.”

Women can tip less than men, but they needn’t fear they’ll never see their cars again. “The parkers tolerate change from women, but not from men,” Hamilton says cautiously (lest his big-tipping female customers read this article). “We used to have parkers who wanted to work the Dallas Woman’s Club because they’d get laundry change. And about four years ago, the little ladies of The Daughters of the American Revolution tipped quarters with such grace that the boys were pleased with each 25 cents they made.”

Although Hamilton claims that 70 percent of the socialites who regularly attend the major society events in Dallas know the parkers and vice versa, keeping track of which cars belong to whom can be difficult.

James Hatcher, who has been parking cars for Boles for 26 years (since he was 16), personally greeted by name almost all of the 200 guests at a party at the Dallas Historical Society in early February.

“At the really big functions, those with 500 or more cars, we leave the keys in the ignition,” Hatcher explains, “because if you have that many cars and one set is missing, it can be a nightmare.”

Even with all the keys in the ignition, there can be mix-ups. A few years ago at the Crystal Charity Ball at the Dallas Hyatt Regency, the conditions were so bad that the nearest car to the entrance was 600 yards away. One of the parkers accidently put several cars in the wrong row, so the wrong cars were delivered to the waiting guests. There was a wait of about 45 minutes.

Hamilton says that although the keys are left in the cars, there is very little theft. “Certain men are assigned to watch certain rows of cars, and we almost always have [po-lice] officers watching the lots at the big functions.”

Even when it’s not their fault, the parkers may take the blame when something goes wrong. “The Cattle Barons’ Ball in 1981 at Southfork Ranch was one of the great disasters,” Hatcher says. “It was a dark, rainy night, and the generator blew out in the dance hall, so there was a mass exodus. Suddenly, 1,400 people were trying to get their cars to go home. Because the fields were muddy, the cars were parked on the main road, and many were nearly a mile away. The wait was between an hour and an hour and a half. The ladies were standing in the mud in their ball gowns, and the men kept yelling for their cars. At times like that,” Hamilton says, “the finest men in Dallas begin shouting at me, and they keep making references to my parents.”

New employees are trained the same way the original parkers were. They quickly learn that being fast on their feet is of utmost importance when fetching cars. Although the parkers are not quizzed or tested on their capacity to remember names and license numbers, most of them do.

“Everyone else knows Robert Dedman as the guy who wanted to double-deck Central Expressway, but he’s just a ’65 Humpback Silver Seville Dedman to us,” one of the parkers says. “We call O.B. English ’85 Beige Bentley English, even though with him, you can skip the license number and color of the car, since he’s the only Bentley in town,” another parker says.

“Mrs. John Watson drives a light beige Seville with the license MAW, and Mrs. John Penson is easy to remember-she’s C-GRAPE.

“We got so disappointed because we used to know all the Haggars’ cars with the licenses SLAX or SLACKS, etc. Now, for security reasons, they all have numbered plates,” Hamilton says.

“Ronald Chamness is tough to remember, since he has several Rolls-Royces and Mercedeses and you never know which one he is going to show up in, whereas you can be sure Sis Carr is coming in a yellow Cadillac.”

Just as room-service waiters are taught to feign ignorance of what they might hear or see in their jobs, the parkers are expected to be discreet about things that happen in the privacy of cars. Sometimes that can be difficult.

“I once jumped into a Cadillac after a very late dinner party on Lakeside Drive,” one parker admits shyly. “As I started the ignition, the host of the party and a very attractive woman looked up from the back seat. The host said to me in a very demanding tone, ’Take the rest of your boys and get on out of here.’ He pulled three $100 bills out of his pocket and handed them to me. I opened the car door very quietly, told the other guys what I’d seen, and we got out of there as fast as you can imagine.”

A young seminary student also had a chance to see another side of Dallas society on one of his first nights with the company.

“Many people think or a parker as a nephew or grandson-someone who will do whatever you ask and not be embarrassed about it,” Hamilton says.

“There was this young student who was helping a middle-aged matron into her car after a party one night, when the lady said, ’Young man, I have terrible arthritis in my fingers. Would you mind unbuttoning my dress so that I can get out of it when I get home?’ The parker ever-so-willingly obliged the lady. For the rest of the night, he just stood there, shaking with embarrassment.”

The parkers have played their share of pranks, too, Hatcher says. “A newspaper reporter once wrote an unfavorable article about us. The next night at a big society function, her car was ’lost in a rainstorm.’”

But the parkers can also go out of their way to be helpful. One night about a year ago, a couple arrived at a black-tie affair at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts at Fair Park when the fan belt suddenly broke in their car. Fearing that they couldn’t drive the car home after the party, they asked a parker if he would have it fixed for them. Without hesitating, he said he would. And he did. The couple later learned that he had searched half of East Dallas for four hours before he had found a service station that would fix it.

The Jack Boles Parking Service can well afford to bend over backward to serve its customers. In 1983, the company’s gross revenues totalled about $1.4 million. Of that, $400,000 was in cash tips.

“We have a waiting list of as many as 100 job applicants at times,” Hamilton says. “A parker can make anywhere from $2,000 to $22,000 a year in salary and from $5 to $50 a night in tips.”

The parkers who started with Boles in the Forties say they are saddened that Dallas has grown so big and that the business has grown less personal than it once was. “It used to be that all of us worked a party together, and afterwards we’d have a poker game or sit around and tell stories,” says Eugene Vessels, who has been with Boles since 1961. “Today, you’re lucky if you’re working with just one of the original men or if you know half the others.”

Today, the company is employed full time at Brook Hollow Golf Club, The Mansion on Turtle Creek, The Tower Club and the Lakewood, Prestonwood, Bent Tree and Northwood country clubs.

Boles also has out-of-town clients, including The Remington Hotel in Houston, but he says that valet parking still isn’t nearly as big a business in Houston or most other cities as it is in Dallas.

Hamilton says he has been surprised by the boom in his comDanv’s business in recent years, and he expects the parkers’ popularity to continue. “Until about 1970, the people in Dallas who used the valet parking service were exclusively the social elite, such as the Crows, the Wynnes and the Mur-chisons,” Hamilton says. “Then the new people who came to town decided that if they were going to be noticed and be a part of the chic upper class here in Dallas, they needed us.

“Now everyone wants to ’put on the dog.’And why not?”

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